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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR JANUARY 7-21, 2010
United Airlines: Wow! A Summer Business-Class Sale Already!
Had enough of the cold weather? Well, don't head to Europe now because its weather is worse than ours and most Europeans have even less tolerance for it than we do. But here's an intriguing idea: Europe in the summer, when it is (or should be) warm. And, shockingly, United Airlines has already launched a summer fare sale to Europe. Prices are not insanely low, but they are good and it might be wise to book now if you're the kind of person who likes to plan in advance. The outbound travel window is July 5 to September 5 and return travel must be completed by September 9. Sample prices: Washington/Dulles to Brussels for $1,075 each way; Chicago-Paris for $1,225; Denver-London for $1,325; and San Francisco-Frankfurt to $1,325. The restrictions: roundtrip, nonrefundable purchase and a Saturday stay required. Information: the Summer in Europe page.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL DEALS
Hilton: A Worldwide Weekend Sale for All of 2010
Hilton has been on the receiving end of a lot of ire from frequent travelers lately thanks to its 20 percent devaluation of the Hilton HHonors program for 2010. And it has yet to launch a systemwide first-quarter promotion despite its promise to be much more active in that arena. But sale prices on room rates always help deflect the anger and Hilton's worldwide weekend sale may help a little. The prices are good to fabulous--20-50 percent off stays on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights--and can be booked for weekend stays in 2010. But there are notable restrictions, including a nonrefundable pre-payment. That in itself wouldn't be so bad, but you'll have to commit to purchases by January 31. Moreover, some of the January sale rates, especially those at Hilton's focused-service brands such as Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn, aren't notably better than what you'll get without a prepayment. On the other hand, some of the discounts at Hilton's Europe and Asia properties are steep indeed and worth booking early. Information: the Weekend Pass page.

car Alamo Rent A Car: Super-Cheap Weekend Rentals, But Act Fast
Alamo Rent A Car is quietly blitzing travelers with a super-cheap rental offer if they are prepared to book weekends until February 8. The rates are astonishingly low (from $10 a day for a compact up to $20 for a premium full-size car) and you can pick up a vehicle as early as 9 a.m. Thursday. The maximum rental period is four days and you must keep the vehicle over a Saturday night. Information: the Quicksilver Weekend Rentals page.

Alternate Airlines: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like January Sale Time
It's a standard in the travel business: Lagging sales in January and February lead airlines to post some of their best prices of the season. And it's no different this year, especially for alternate airlines, which are always anxious to get your attention. Here is some of what's on tap:
    · Frontier/Midwest, now essentially marketing arms of the same carrier, offers fares as low as $49 one-way between January 13 and May 27 when you book by January 13. There's a 10-day advance purchase and some fares require a 3-day minimum stay. Fares on flights designated Frontier Airlines are one-way, but fares on flights marked Midwest Airlines require a roundtrip purchase. Samples: Denver-Newark for $114 and Atlanta-Salt Lake City for $129. Get more details here or here.
    · AirTran Airways sale fares start as low as $39 one-way for travel starting January 15. The sale extends until March 10 for Florida and Caribbean destinations and until May 26 for other cities. Tickets must be purchased by January 14 and require a 10-day advance purchase. The cheapest fares are available on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. Samples: Asheville-Orlando for $55 one-way and Dayton-Cancun for $86. Get more details here.
    · JetBlue Airways is selling seats as low as $39 one-way for travel until March 24 if you book your tickets by January 13. An advance-purchase restriction of as long as 10 days applies. Samples: Austin-Fort Lauderdale for $79 one-way and New York/Kennedy-Pittsburgh for $39. Get more details here.
    · Virgin America Airlines has seats as low as $39 one-way on short hops and even has some $99 transcon fares, too. Its sale fares last until June 20 if you book and pay by January 11. Tickets require a 3-day advance purchase and the cheapest fares are available mid-week until March 10. Fares are higher on weekends and for March 11 until June 20. Samples: Boston or Washington/Dulles to San Francisco or Los Angeles for $99 one-way and Seattle-John Wayne/Orange County for $59. Get more details here.

Qantas: Reasonable Business-Class Fares Down Under Are Here to Stay
Qantas has generally been tone-deaf on fares, especially in business class. But times are tough and competition has heated up with two new carriers (V Australia and Delta) bucking the old Qantas-United duopoly. So Qantas is now discounting aggressively. The latest sale, available for purchase until January 29, is noteworthy and just $500 more than the super-low rates Qantas posted late last year. From Los Angeles or San Francisco to Sydney or Brisbane, the business-class fare has been cut to as low as $4,940 roundtrip. From New York, the fare is just $5,444 roundtrip. (These fares require a 50-day advance purchase, same as previous sales.) But Qantas still can't help itself. Its business-class prices to Melbourne are, inexplicably, $1,000 higher roundtrip than its Sydney or Brisbane fares. And its add-on fares from other United States cities are equally out of step: almost $400 more roundtrip from San Diego than LAX or SFO, more than $900 more from Dallas/Fort Worth and, most insane of all, almost $1,600 roundtrip more from any other East Coast city besides New York. So word to the wise: Take the deal to Sydney or Brisbane from New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco and forget the other stuff. Quoted fares are available for departures on Monday-Thursday. Information: the Visit Australia page.

THE MOST NOTABLE FREQUENT-TRAVEL PLAN PROMOTIONS
Lodgings: The Big (and Inevitable) 1Q Hotel-Chain Promotions
After a horrific year of plummeting room rates and sagging occupancy rates, the hotel industry is facing another huge challenge: the first quarter of 2010. And the first quarter is when room rates plummet and occupancy rates sag. In other words, the major hotel chains will be falling all over themselves with promotions to win your business. Here's a look at the ones that have already been announced:
    · Starwood Preferred Guest will offer double points for one- or two-night stays; triple points for three-night stays; and quadruple points for stays of four nights or more. There are no limits to the number of bonus points you can earn and you'll earn the bonus for each night of your stay. The deal is valid on stays until April 15. You must register for the offer.
    · Carlson Hotels offers as many as 50,000 bonus miles on stays until February 28. Goldpoints plus members who register here will receive 5,000 bonus points for two stays; 7,500 more points for the third stay; 12,500 points for the fourth stay; and 25,000 additional points for the fifth stay.
    · Marriott Rewards members are being offered as many as 60,000 bonus points for stays from February 1 to April 30. The exact formula is apparently known only to the bureaucrats at Marriott Rewards and the promotion is customized on a member-by-member basis, but here is a representative offer. If you're an existing Marriott Rewards member, check the promotions area of your home page after logging in.

Red Lion: Six Hotel Stays Earn 25,000 Airline Miles
Red Lion, once an iconic West Coast hotel brand, is trying to rebuild its reputation and visibility among business travelers. And what better way to do it than giving a bushel of airline miles? Red Lion's offer is 25,000 miles big and can be earned in the frequent flyer program of four airlines: American, Alaska, Delta or Hawaiian. Here's how it works: You join Red Lion's loyalty program called the R&R Club. Then you book and complete six stays at the Super Mega Miles rate by January 31. You'll receive 2,000 miles for each of your first five stays and a 15,000-mile bonus for your sixth stay. Make sure you use the promotional code MEGMIL when you book. Information: the Red Lion Web site.

Hyatt Gold Passport: The Next Big Thing Is Bigger Than Faster Free Nights
The single best--and most awaited--frequent travel promotion of most recent years has been Hyatt's Faster Free Nights deal, which offered a free night for every two Hyatt stays. Incredibly, Hyatt has improved the deal this year and renamed it The Next Big Thing. The offer: Get a free night for each two stays or receive 3,000 bonus Gold Passport points for each stay, starting with the second stay. And then there is this new fillip: Every stay during the Next Big Thing promotional period will count double towards earning Gold Passport elite status in 2010. This year, the eligible period for piling up free nights at Hyatt, Hyatt Place or Summerfield Suites hotels extends to January 31. As always, you can earn an unlimited number of free nights with no blackout dates and the free nights can be claimed between October 15 and March 31. If you choose the 3,000 bonus points per stay instead, you can earn them until January 31. The only major caveat: You must register for the promotion and choose free nights or bonus points when you register. Information: the Choose Your Reward page.

GREAT HOTEL BARGAINS AVAILABLE AROUND THE WORLD
Chicago: A Factory Hotel With a Double-Digit Winter Rate
Okay, it's a given: It's insanely cold, and often impossibly snowy, in Chicagoland during the winter. And the Hyatt Regency Chicago is a factory: 2,000 rooms, best known as a convention hotel and not the most subtle property on the planet. Still, Chicago in winter can be great fun--museums, shopping, good dining and plenty of other fine indoor attractions--and the Hyatt is located on the city's Riverwalk. Besides, it's not a bad property if you can accept the sprawling nature of the place. And there's this amazing perk: $79 a night rates through April 30. Use promotional code FUN25 when making the reservation. Information: the Hyatt Regency Chicago Web page.

Trump Waikiki: A Fifth Night Free for the First Spring
The skyscraping Trump Waikiki hotel opened in November across the street from the Halekulani, Honolulu's current reigning dowager. The newly built Trump isn't as glitzy as the Trump name might suggest and its accommodations--spacious, fully-equipped studio apartments to insanely lavish penthouses--are refreshing, relaxed and more than a match for what's on offer at the Halekulani. And to get your attention during its first spring season, the Trump Waikiki has a notable offer: a fifth night free. Rates start at $340 a night, which brings the effective five-night rate to as low as $272 a night. The deal is available from March 21 to April 3; April 18 to April 28; and May 7 to June 15. Information: the Trump Waikiki Web site.

Country Inns: 20 Percent Off Weeknight Stays This Fall and Winter
The 500-location-strong Country Inns chain offers nice perks--including free WiFi and breakfast--but doesn't get the publicity of bigger operations such as Courtyard, Hampton or Hilton Garden Inn. Maybe this will help, though: 20 percent off two-night stays until February 25. The deal is available Sunday through Thursday evenings with a three-night advance reservation. There is a maximum stay of four days. As always with these blanket percent-off deals, one caveat: Check carefully to make sure it's the lowest rate. Given these tumultuous times, rate deals are everywhere and a specific promotion might yield a better price at a specific property. Information: the Stay 2 Save 20% page.

Boscolo Hotels: 52 Weekends in 11 Cities in Europe for One Price (€1,880)
The Italy-based Boscolo Hotels chain has invented one of the most creative promotions in years. The Boscolo Key Card costs €1,880 a year and is valid for 52 weekend stays. The stays (check in Saturday or Sunday and check out Sunday or Monday) can be claimed in 11 cities: Bologna, Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice, Verona and Varese, Italy; Nice or Lyon, France; Prague; and Budapest. You can stay as many as five times in each city during the year whenever a standard, superior or deluxe room is available. The €1,880 price includes the VAT tax, but not breakfast. Pretty fabulous deal if you can get enough use out of the card. Information: the Boscolo Key Card page.

OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL DEALS STILL AVAILABLE
Oxford: Let's Be Honest. This Is Your Best Shot at Being a Rhodes Scholar.
It's never too late to be a Rhodes Scholar, but let's be honest: You've probably missed your window of opportunity. So the next best thing is the Oxford Experience, a series of week-long, live-in seminars at Christ Church College that runs between July 4 and August 7. Participants receive the course; accommodations in Oxford dorms (private rooms are available as an option); and three daily meals. The price is 1,050 pounds or about US$1,700. What can you do with your week? Study the Beatles or the Brontes. Relive the Battle of Britain or Jewish life in the Middle Ages. Study the Normans or the Romanovs, Beethoven or the Crusades. Or even get an introduction to the history and science of cosmology. The deadline for registration is May 1, but the courses fill up quickly. Surf to The Oxford Experience page.

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THE FINE PRINT Nobody pays their way onto this page. I post the deals solely for the benefit of members based on my perception of what is a great price or a terrific value. The prices do not include applicable taxes unless specifically stated. Assume there are weird restrictions and caveats I never thought to ask about. Unless otherwise stated, you should be able to book these deals at any travel agency or directly from the listed travel supplier. Never assume that these prices (or any price listed publicly) are the lowest that are available. You should always ask if thereís a cheaper price or better deal. Virtually everything is capacity controlled or subject to blackout days, based on availability and subject to abrupt change whenever they think they can squeeze us for a few extra bucks. Please do not suspend your inbred skepticism. Donít blame me if these deals are sold out when you try to book at these prices, but do let me know if you think that we're being scammed. It's important to expose the fakers and phonies. -- Joe Brancatelli

This column is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.